Three teenage soccer players are facing manslaughter, assault and public violence charges for beating a volunteer referee to death following a soccer game this weekend in Almere, the Netherlands.
Richard Nieuwenhuizen was a linesman for a youth soccer match between Buitenboys, his son's team, and Nieuw Sloten. After Sunday's game, Nieuwenhuizen, 41, was shaking players' hands when the three players, two 15-year-olds and one 16-year-old, surrounded him, pushed him to the ground, and began attacking him.
"The version that we know is that he was pulled down on the ground and kicked very hard several times," Marcel Oost, chairman of the Buitenboys Club, said. He managed to get away from the boys, who chased him down and continued to kick his head, neck and stomach.
Nieuwenhuizen reportedly initially appeared to be okay, and went home after the attack. When he returned to the field a few hours later to watch another match, he collapsed and lost consciousness. He was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead Monday. The official cause of death has not yet been announced.
Dutch authorities haven't given a possible motive for the attack. Nieuw Sloten, the team for which the alleged attackers played, has been in trouble before, receiving two warnings recently, once for verbally abusing a referee and one for a player fighting with a spectator. The three boys accused in this case are in police custody, and will appear before a judge behind closed doors on Thursday.
In a statement, Nieuw Sloten wrote they were horrified to learn of Nieuwenhuizen's death, and apologized to the Buitenboys team.
"Violence should not be on the football fields. And certainly not against referees, linesmen and all the others who volunteer each year for over a million amateur footballers," the statement reads. "We must do everything possible to eliminate this violence. We will of course fully cooperate with the police investigation. We believe that those who are responsible for this act should be punished."
The attack shocked the Netherlands, where youth and amateur sports are a big part of Dutch family life, with parental involvement in games commonplace. Nieuwenhuizen volunteered as a referee every week, Oost said.
"It is inconceivable that this could occur on a football field," Bert van Oostveen, the Royal Dutch Football Association, KNVB, director of professional soccer said in a statement posted on the association's website. "These are the volunteers on which our sport is built. Without them, we cannot go on."
The brutal attack sent shock waves throughout a country where soccer is hugely popular.
Amsterdam's alderman, Eric van der Burg, expressed disbelief, adding professional players need to set good examples for young athletes. The country's sports minister, Edith Schippers called the death "shocking." Frank de Boer, manager of top Dutch soccer team Ajax, called the attack "too ridiculous for words."
"You can't imagine it happening," de Boer said in a press conference in Madrid. "That the 'fuses' in a 16-year old boy can 'blow' like that. You wonder about the parenting. Something has to be done."
All amateur soccer games were canceled this weekend. There will be a moment of silence before a professional matches, and all professional players will wear black mourning bands.
The players arrested for the beating were banned from soccer in the country for life, and all upcoming Nieuw Sloten games have been canceled. A number of teams, including all those based in Almere, have stated they will refuse to play any games against Nieuw Sloten.
This attack comes almost exactly one year after an attack in which an amateur player fatally kicked a 77-year-old man after a match. That player was sentenced last week to three years' in prison for kicking the man so hard his spleen ruptured, killing him a month later.
"Football is a mirror of society and, sadly, the same ills that afflict society - in this case violence - also manifest themselves in our game," FIFA president Michael van Praag said in a statement on Nieuwenhuizen's death. "Nevertheless, I remain convinced that football - through the example set by the tireless efforts of people like Mr. Nieuwenhuizen - is a force for good, and we must continue use its positive example to educate people against these wrongs."
Dutch authorities announced Monday that the investigation is still ongoing, and that the police would not rule out arresting more suspects.